As with a good meal, it is the main course that counts for the most. Jonathan Hazell explains how to make sure all the correct ingredients are in place with your writing.
Last time I set the scene and made reference to the police caution as a useful piece of advice when writing your report, let me introduce two more pieces of advice. First “the logic test” – if you assert that A is true, then can B really be true as well, let alone C? Second Mark Twain’s quote “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”. Follow these and give the reader no reasonable cause to doubt what you say.
The middle of your report is the section where your writing moves from presenting irrefutable fact to offering your opinions, and you analyse the evidence that you have gathered and weigh it up against the agreed brief and scope.
A common report is for trees on a development site, where the guiding principles will be drawn from BS5837, or perhaps the condition(s) that the local planning authority is seeking to have discharged before works can proceed.
For the initial report you will have been expected to assign the trees that you have assessed to one of the four quality categories, as determined on the day that you saw them, either on the grounds of quality or estimated remaining life expectancy. You will need to explain why you have put a particular tree into a category and sub-category. It will help your client and the custodian (the local authority Tree Officer for example) if you make your thinking and reasoning clear. If there is something that you are not sure about, for example a fungal fruiting body, then do the research and take time to identify what you have seen, and more importantly the consequences of that discovery.
A second report for the same site might require an impact assessment or method statement in order to discharge a condition set by the local planning authority – take time to deconstruct the condition and make sure you address each element. Also make sure that you have read and interpreted BS5837 reasonably – for example for root protection areas (and so the construction exclusion zone and position of tree protection measures or ground protection measures) make certain hypothetical presumptions which are open to negotiation, provided you make a valid case supported by the evidence you have collected and reported.
Another brief may ask you to consider tree health and condition and the implications for targets: templates for what you need to consider, and how you analyse the evidence, already exist and the appropriate training courses are well worth investigating. For another brief you may need to categorise trees without using BS5837 as it may not be appropriate; take the time to explain what you have done and writing what grounds your categorisation is based upon.
Don’t forget that there are occasions when it’s wise to say nothing about something that you may have seen, especially when it’s stretching you beyond the limits of your professional training, qualifications and experience.